Pine Creek Rail Trail 2006 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis
This study found that the Pine Creek Rail Trail is a popular destination trail for cyclists in Pennsylvania, most of whom stay overnight. Although the estimates of use and economic impact are imperfect, they do show that the trail is responsible for bringing many people to the area who otherwise would not have come.
This study would be of interest to communities looking for examples of the types of questions to ask users on a popular, destination trail. However, the survey used a “convenience sample,” meaning that those who wished to fill out the surveys placed at trailheads or businesses could do so. This is a commonly used, inexpensive approach, but it leads to a likely overestimate of trail use as the most enthusiastic users are the ones most likely to complete the survey. However, it is clear that this is a very popular, highly used trail, and those who spend money in area businesses.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail runs from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania (population 3,289 in 2013) and Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania (population 4,354 in 2013) in northcentral Pennsylvania, close to several state forests.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail covers 63 miles in northcentral Pennsylvania. Along the route, the trail passes through the heart of the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” Pine Creek and its tributaries are popular destinations for trout fishing and the stream near this trail provides opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and rafting.
The survey was designed to monitor user characteristics and determine the economic impact of the Pine Creek Rail Trail. This analysis of the Pine Creek Rail Trail was conducted by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and funded partly by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail serves as a destination trail, with fewer than one-quarter of users coming from the same county. Most users are cyclists, coming from other counties in Pennsylvania, with the remainder coming from neighboring states. The authors estimate that approximately 138,000 users visit the trail each year, based on counters installed on the trail.
Of the 1,049 completed surveys, 602 respondents (57%) stayed overnight, staying an average of three nights. Spending related to day use (e.g., food and beverages) averaged $30 per day; spending on overnight accommodations averaged $69 per night.
Sixty percent of respondents stated they would pay an annual user fee, although it is unclear what dollar amount they would be willing to pay.
The survey also involved informal interviews with businesses along the trail, all of whom indicated that the Pine Creek Rail Trail had resulted in an increase in business, leading them to add new products, extend their hours of operation and hire additional staff. To draw trail users, all businesses had added amenities, such as bike racks, to serve the trail user. Some of the businesses now provide box lunches for trail users and picnic tables along the trail.
The authors also present a simple cost-benefit analysis. At the time of this study, the total estimated construction and design costs for the Pine Creek Rail Trail, including a large bridge, were $12,660,000. Spending on food and beverage and overnight accommodation directly contributes between $3 and $5 million a year to the economy of the Pine Creek Valley. This comparison suggests that local economic impacts over a few years are comparable to the state’s initial investment.
The authors used the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s “Trail User Survey Workbook” as a starting point for the survey. The sample was self-selecting and voluntary. Self-mailing and postage-paid survey forms were available April through October 2006 at ten official trailheads along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and at many of the merchants who cater to trail users. Completed responses were mailed back to Rail-to-Trails Conservancy. In total, 1,049 completed survey forms are included in this study. A response rate cannot be calculated from this sampling method.
Knoch, C. and P. Tomes. 2006. Pine Creek Rail Trail 2006 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.